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Wisconsin Gov. Walker Issues Layoff Notices to Unions Amid Budget Standoff

 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued notices to state unions Friday of possible layoffs beginning early next month after none of the 14 fugitive state Senate Democrats returned from Illinois to give the Republican majority the quorum it needed to vote on a spending bill. 

Once the unions are notified, the layoffs could take effect in 30 days. State departments will have a couple weeks to develop layoff plans.

The unions were notified the layoffs could begin in early April, said Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie, adding that the notices may be withdrawn if the Senate Democrats return to Wisconsin.

"Without Senate action within 15 days, individual employees may begin to receive potential termination notifications," Werwie said in a written statement. 

The layoff notices, obtained by Fox News, do not specify how many employees would be affected. But Walker has said his administration would have to start preparing layoff notices for as many as 1,500 state employees so the state can start to realize the $30 million savings he had assumed would come from the concessions. 

Senate Republicans voted Thursday to hold the missing Democrats in contempt and force police to bring them back to the Capitol. But the Democrats were still on the run Friday.

The legislation, which would strip most public-sector workers in the state of their collective bargaining rights, has led to nearly three weeks of protests -- some attended by tens of thousands of union supporters -- in and around the state Capitol, which was completely cleared of demonstrators late Thursday for the first time in 17 nights after a judge ordered the building closed during non-business hours.

Walker says the bill is needed to ease a deficit that is projected to hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by mid-2013. His proposal comes up with the money for this year in part by forcing state employees to pay for half the cost of their pensions and twice their current health care premiums -- concessions equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut.

With the labor bill stalled, Walker said he has to issue layoff notices starting Friday. 

All state workers, except those at prisons, state hospitals and other facilities open around the clock, would be potential layoff targets, he said.

"I pushed it off as long as I could because I do not want to have layoffs," Walker said.

While Walker said he is actively working with some of the Democrats in hopes of striking a deal, he told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.

"I can't take any of that off the table," he said. "We cannot tear apart this budget. We cannot put this burden on local governments. But if there are other ways they are willing to work with us to find a pathway back, I think that's what people want."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller confirmed there were talks with Walker, but he did not think they were close to reaching a deal.

The statewide teachers union and state workers unions have said they would agree to the benefit concessions -- as long as they retain collective bargaining rights.

But Walker argues that move is necessary to deal with $1 billion in cuts to school districts and local governments that he proposed separately as part of his budget plan for the next two years. He says schools and local governments would have a tough time making the necessary cuts if they have to negotiate with unions.

Fitzgerald signed orders Thursday finding the 14 missing Democrats in contempt and allowing the chamber's sergeant at arms to use police force to detain them if necessary. Fitzgerald says his orders are binding only if the senators return to Wisconsin.

Democrats say they haven't done anything illegal and couldn't be arrested.

"There are so many police supporting us, they might have a hard time finding one to bring us back," said Miller, one of the AWOL Democrats.

A memo provided by private attorney Jim Troupis, who was hired by the Senate Republicans and often works with the GOP, said the state Constitution gives them authority to act to compel attendance under its rules.

Once the senators do return, Fitzgerald said they could face reprimand, censure or even expulsion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.